Triple Negative Breast Cancer – What It Means
When a cancerous tumor is removed from a breast, a sample (biopsy) of the tumor is taken and a pathologist examines its characteristics to determine the status of three breast cancer specific markers – the estrogen receptor (ER), progesterone receptor (PR), and a form of the epidermal growth factor receptor (HER2).
ER and PR are proteins that bind the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, respectively. These hormones are produced by the ovaries and play a major role in stimulating cell division in breast cells.
Estrogen and progesterone bind to their respective receptors on the surface of cells and stimulate cell division. Breast tumor cells with a positive (+) hormone receptor status have high levels of ER and PR. These types of breast cancer are typically treated with hormone therapy.
HER2 is a receptor protein located on the surface of breast cells. This protein binds growth factors and stimulates cell growth and division. Breast tumor cells with a positive (+) HER2 status have high levels of HER2 on their surface. These types of breast cancer can be treated with a special type of targeted therapy.
The Perceived Threat
Triple negative breast tumors do not have high levels of any of ER, PR or HER2 receptors. In theory triple negative tumors should have a better prognosis than tumors expressing ER, PR, or HER2, because they are not receiving the growth signals provided by these proteins.
This doesn’t seem to be the case, however. Oncologists know precisely how to treat breast cancers expressing ER+, PR+, or HER2+ — they do it with drugs such as Herceptin, Tamoxifen and Arimidex that inhibit the function of the receptors.
But triple negative breast cancer is unresponsive to these targeted treatments. Studies have shown that triple negative tumor cells may be more aggressive than other breast cancer subtypes, but the reasons for this are unknown. About 10-20% of breast cancers are found to be triple-negative. For doctors and researchers, there is intense interest in finding new medications that can treat this kind of breast cancer.
Depending on the confidence and “bedside manner” of her doctor, patients who are categorized as triple negative can tend to worry quite a bit more than those who aren’t – there is a lot of negative information on the Internet about the lack of treatment options and the “aggressive nature of the tumor cells making triple negative breast cancer more difficult to treat”. Please keep reading!
The website breastcancer.org (an excellent source of breast cancer information) has an article that is worth reading: “Treatment for Triple-Negative Breast Cancer“.
New research has come to light from Cancer Research UK that breast cancer actually falls into TEN different categories, rather than the subgroups discussed above (estrogen and progesterone receptor positive or negative, and either HER2 positive or negative). One day soon we will be able to offer each woman an individualized therapy, depending on the type of breast cancer she has.
Forget the “Poor Prognosis” Terminology
My main purpose in writing this article is to calm the fears and concerns of women who are found to be triple negative. This is not a death sentence! You might have to fight a little harder, be a little more proactive. You might have to arm yourself with a little more knowledge (something I always recommend anyway!) but this is definitely survivable.
The first thing I would suggest you do (besides attending all of the medical appointments suggested for you) is to expand your mind and read “The Biology of Belief” by Dr Bruce Lipton. Dr Lipton is a cell biologist who has closely examined how our beliefs control our DNA. This is a powerful, life-changing book.
Then you could read “You Can Conquer Cancer” by Dr Ian Gawler, an Australian veterinarian who healed himself from a potentially lethal form of cancer using nutrition, meditation and various other natural forms of therapy.
Shakespeare’s Hamlet had it right when he said, “…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Then realize that there are some positives with your diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer:
1. You do not have to take hormone therapy drugs that have a whole host of unpleasant side effects.
2. Research shows that triple-negative tumors respond better to chemotherapy than tumors that are estrogen and progesterone positive. Chemo works better on you!
3. If you remain disease-free for four or more years the chances are your cancer will NEVER return.
4. Research for this type of breast cancer has been given a very high priority – there are study results being published practically weekly.
LASTLY, KNOW WITH EVERY FIBER OF YOUR BEING THAT YOU CAN BEAT THIS!
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